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RNLI faces newspaper criticism over its international work

16 Sep 2019 News

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution has been criticised in three weekend newspapers about its work overseas. 

RNLI issued a strong rebuttal, saying it was proud of its international programmes, which represent a very small proportion of total spending, and that it had not attempted to hide this activity. 

On Saturday, the Times published an article focusing on spending on RNLI's international projects. This was followed on Sunday by the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Sun.  

Expenditure on international work by the charity rose from £1.3m to £3.3m over five years, but currently accounts for only 2 per cent of overall spending.

The articles highlighted RNLI's projects to provide Tanzanian women and girls with burkini swimsuits and offer child crèches in Bangladesh.

Impact on donations 

There was mixed response to the criticism on social media. Some members of the public said that they intended to cancel donations while others pledged to increase the support they give to the charity. 

Steve Wills, head of international programmes at the RNLI, said on Twitter: “I’m truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support following some disgraceful reporting by two national newspapers this weekend.

“I could not be prouder of the work we & our partners do to save lives in the UK, Ireland & around the world. Every life matters.”

This morning a spokesperson for RNLI said: “We have been very encouraged to see a sharp increase in online donations, coupled with some very positive messages of support. But this is such a polarising issue, and we have also received some very negative responses, including people contacting our supporter care team requesting to withdraw or reduce their support for the charity.

“The volume of responses we have received on this matter is vast and ongoing – the overall picture is changing constantly at the moment, so it may be several weeks before we have a full understanding of its impact on donations to the RNLI.” 

Using its expertise to reduce drowning 

The details of RNLI’s overseas work have surfaced in the same month that it announced 135 redundancies to deal with a shortfall in funds.

In a comprehensive statement on its website, it said: “The RNLI has always been dedicated to drowning reduction. 

“The World Health Organisation estimates that 320,000 people drown each year worldwide and we believe that with others, we should use our lifesaving expertise to try and help tackle this.”

‘No sleight of hand’

MPs voiced concerns in the press that the British public donating to the RNLI would not be aware that it works internationally.

The Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told the Times: “While these causes are no doubt worthy, they are more suitable for support from our international aid budget than the RNLI.

“At a time when income is down and demand is increasing in the British Isles, it should be sticking to its core priorities or it could have a detrimental effect on UK giving.”

But the RNLI said it had not misled supporters and had reported the international component of its work on its website and in annual reports. 

In its statement, it said: “There has been no sleight of hand.”

RNLI plans to reduce costs

Earlier this month, Mark Dowie, chief executive at the RNLI said the charity was working to become more efficient in the face of a £28.6m fall in resources last year.

In yesterday's statement, it added: “All areas of RNLI work – including our international budget – are being looked at and we are reducing costs wherever we can as part of an organisational wide programme of activity to get us back to living within our means.”

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